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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Showcase: Xanthe Wise


Intersex and autism - biological variation or disorder?

I've been researching intersex for a blog post I'm thinking about for my God Confusion blog.

It is estimated as much as 4% of population have some degree of intersex (biologically between male & female). The medical profession made intersex invisible for decades because it was thought to be 'abnormal'. Most people that are intersex would never know it, because they have typical anatomy for male or female and can produce offspring.

Instead of accepting differences, for decades psychiatrists, psychologists and religious fundamentalists have preached that intersex is a defect/deformity/disorder that needs to be fixed. All this has done is create shame and stigma and many broken people.

In order to fit binary sex categories, many children were mutilated with surgery. In the western world, everyone is assigned a legal sex, and too bad if you're intersex and been assigned the sex that prevents you from legally marrying (heterosexual marriage has also been ingrained by religious fundamentalists).

I've read several comments by religious people that claim intersex people are not entitled to marry at all. Even recently, there has been hate speech and claims that people that are intersex are immoral.

My thinking is intersex is a biological variation, not a deformity (it's society that's turned it into a deformity). The labels 'male' and 'female' are human assignments and people have been mutilated for decades to conform to two categories. Biologically, sex is not binary, but is more of a continuum.

There are over 40 different known 'conditions', mostly genetic that result in intersex. Not many of them result in unambiguous genitalia. Intersex is the preferred catch-all label instead of misleading labels such as hermaphrodite.

All labels are human constructs. By their very nature, they exclude people. Labels often carry stigma - look at the stigma that goes with mental illness. I never tell a potential workplace I've suffered depression, as I won't get the job. Part of the reason I write under a pen-name is because of stigma about the topics I write about. It gives me a buffer against ignorant bigots.

I read some heart-breaking stories by people that are intersex - the suffering they endured being made out to be freaks by society. Advocates educate people about the facts, myths and reality of intersex. One pointed out they are not defined by their intersex - they are a human being and intersex is a part of who they are.

For years autism and Asperger's were seen by the psychology and the medical profession as a disorder to be fixed. Like intersex, it was thought to be rare and abnormal. It is now estimated that 1% of the population are/have Asperger's. Asperger's is on the autistic spectrum and there are plans by psychiatry to dispense of the 'Asperger's' label and just have one category, autism.

Psychology/psychiatry is often at odds with personal experience. Autism advocates have spoken out where 'experts' reinforce stigma.

My thinking is that autism/Asperger's is a variation of human personality. Most of my difficulties come because of misunderstanding from society. Like intersex, any way of behaving differently from the majority of society is seen as abnormal, wrong and immoral. The same goes for atheism.

I am an advocate for autism/Asperger's and atheism because I have experienced first hand the stigma from society of being different. My own family don't accept me for my differences - I don't fit their narrow black-and-white worldview ingrained by religion.

Yet, I am not defined by my autism and atheism. That is not all of me - I am also a mother, a wife, a musician, a thinker, a writer, an INTP. I'm a woman (heck, there's a 1 in 25 chance I'm intersex but don't know it).

I'm heterosexual (and sometimes feel I'm asexual as I don't have a particularly high sex drive). I'm celiac and I'm sensitive. I'm part-Maori and part-European. I'm a New Zealand citizen and an Australian resident. These are all labels that only give a glimpse of me.

I am a human being - a multifaceted human being, not just a single dimension. Here's one that upsets a lot of people - I'm an animal and an ape. Yes, humans are classified as apes. Doesn't bother me - I like animals.

Male and female gender roles are labels constructed by society. Gender is what sex a person feels inside, irrespective of their biological sex. I'm female, but not a 'girly' female. I studied a degree dominated by males. Women were oppressed for centuries. Now it's swung the other way somewhat.

Anyone outside the 'norm' still gets despised by much of society (because of the influence of Abrahamic religion) - feminine boys, masculine girls. Bisexuals, gays, transgender etc. Tribal groups often embraced difference such as intersex and transgender - they were considered special and a gift.

I'm all for accepting differences and not being forced to conform to some narrow black-and-white views imposed on individuals by the ignorance of society. The majority bullying minority individuals and groups into submission.

This can only take place with education and challenging current worldviews. Let's do what we can to discard bigoted stereotypes and promote understanding.

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